Business & Economics

A Field Guide to Gender Neutral Language - For Business, Family and Allies


This book will launch on Dec 11, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Why this Book? This field guide is a resource for organizations, families and allies that want to incorporate gender-inclusive practices into their daily lives. It explains, in simple terms, basic gender-expansive vocabulary and includes recommended approaches that recognize, respect and honor the individuality of every human being in our changing world.
This guide shares concrete, practical suggestions, including:
-Methods for incorporating gender-inclusive language into everyday life
-Examples for inclusion of gender nonbinary people in policy creation
-Suggestions for embracing verbiage to use and include in business, families and life
-Explanations on the differences among biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression

Whether you are welcoming a gender expansive employee into the corporate culture or or embracing the gender diversity of a family member as a show of love and support, this book will help guide those efforts and contribute to a more loving, nurturing planet

Changing the World One Pronoun at a Time

Pronouns are small words with big implications

and impact when it comes to gender

identity/expression. It can take some time, effort

and compassionate patience to refer to

someone you know with different pronouns,

but it’s important to do so. Why? Because respectful

pronoun use is one of the most powerful

and simple ways to start creating welcoming

and inclusive environments for our

colleagues, co-workers, students, communities,

clients, customers, patients, friends and

family members.

Establishing and using a common vocabulary

and culture is an important part of creating this

kind of respect, diversity and inclusiveness

that we should all aspire to create. So before

we get into the details of pronouns, here’s a

handy list of actions professional organizations,

businesses, educators, families and indi-

viduals can take to create welcoming environments

for all people:

Do your own homework as a first step rather

than asking a coworker to educate you. Many

questions can be googled and answers

found. It’s okay to ask questions; just make the

effort of learning for yourself first. A good start

is this resource guide from the Human Rights


Being respectful and being an ally means

using the pronouns people ask you to use.

If you make a mistake correct yourself. Using

“they” may feel uncomfortable in the singular.

However, it is now considered grammatically

correct. The Merriam Webster Dictionary has

recognized “they” as singular, and as a sign of

the times, they named it as their Word of the

Year for 2019. You’ll find some easy online

tools and examples for using “they” this way

later in this section.

Wherever you use names, include pronouns.

Name tags, business cards, social media

profile pages, email signatures, intake

forms, introductions at meetings… include

your pronouns. Here are my examples:

Outlook Email Signature (Image in book)

LinkedIn Personal Profile (image in book)

Twitter Home Page (image in book)

All about pronouns

Now let’s get to the practical heart of the matter:

How to use gender-neutral/gender-inclusive


Respecting someone’s pronouns isn't optional

if you want to be respectful of one’s humanity.

Transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid, genderexpansive,

genderqueer and gender non-conforming

people regularly have to fight to be

seen as the gender they are, so respecting a

person’s pronouns is one simple way you can

be an ally. We need to trust that people will

use the pronouns that feel right for them without

judging or questioning their selection.

And guess what? Those pronouns may be fluid

and change again as people navigate their

way into their true identities in a culture where

even being able to do so is new and still

loaded with challenges.

So what are pronouns?

A personal pronoun is a short word we use as

a simple substitute for the proper name of a

person. Each of the English personal pronouns

shows us the grammatical person, gender,

number and case of the noun it replaces. I,

you, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us and

them are all personal pronouns (Source:

Some people prefer “neopronouns”, which

are less common pronouns. The gender-neutral

pronouns, “ze/hir/hirs” (pronounced “zee/

here/heres”), or “ey/em/eirs” (pronounced “ay/

em/airs”), among others, do not imply male or

female gender.

According to, neopronouns are any

set of third-person pronouns that are not officially

recognized in a language. For English,

this means any pronouns that are not he/him/

his, she/her/hers or they/them/their. In English,

people are usually called by a pronoun that

implies their gender.

But currently, the most frequently used gender-

neutral pronouns are a singular version

“they/them/their”. “They/them” is widely used

by people like myself who do not identify with

“she/her” or “he/him” pronouns. These pronouns

are becoming increasingly accepted

into mainstream culture. The main misconception

surrounding “they/them” is that these

pronouns grammatically incorrect when used

in the singular because they’re plural pronouns.

However, we already use singular “they” frequently

in daily life. When we don't actually

know who is being referred to or their gender,

we use “they, them, their”. Here are a few examples:

We can apply these pronouns in the same way

when referring to a gender nonbinary or

transgender person by name. For example:

“Shelley taught a workshop today and

brought their new Field Guide to Gender-

Neutral Language with them to share with

the students.”

One of the reasons “they/them/their” is the

most widely used and accepted version of

gender-neutral/gender-inclusive pronouns is

that these pronouns are already familiar to us

“Somebody left their clothes on the

floor. I hope they’ll be back to pick them


“Did someone forget their coat?”

“I hope whoever dropped their coffee

had it replaced!”

and in common use, making them easier to

apply and adopt compared to some of the

less familiar neopronouns.

“They” as a singular pronoun is an easy choice

for staying gender-neutral if you are not sure

of someone’s gender identity or gender expression.

Why is this important?

Most of us never think about using pronouns.

When we see someone with physical traits of a

woman, we assume that person’s gender is

“woman” and we automatically use the pronouns

“she” or “her”. Same for a person with

physical traits of a man; we use “he” and

“him”. However, for folks like myself that are

transgender or gender nonbinary, using inaccurate

pronouns hurts and can contribute to

creating gender dysphoria.

The Customer-Facing Business Struggle Is


Here’s a question I get asked A LOT:

“Is there a gender-neutral term to replace sir

or ma’am in English?”

Well, there really isn’t. This can be a real challenge

for servers in restaurants and other retail

business professionals, especially in the

southern United States where the use of “sir”

and “ma’am” is an ingrained cultural indicator

of respect. However, here’s a good alternative

for keeping the flow that is often achieved

through the common use of “sir” or “ma’am”:

Here are some more examples of phrasing for

you that lets you continue to express hospitality

and excellent customer service while being

gender neutral/gender inclusive/gender welcoming:

Instead of “Thank you, sir”, try “Thank

you, my friend” or “Thank you so

much”… replacing the “sir” with a few

more words to keep the natural flow of

how the “thank you” comes out without

making gender assumptions. I don’t

think people will notice you are leaving

out the word “sir” or “ma’am”.

If you are a gender nonbinary or transgender

person or ally, or you’re a service professional

who wants a reference to have on hand to

Instead of “Thanks for your order, sir”,

how about, “Thanks for your order,


Rather than “May I take your order,

ma’am?”, try “May I take your order


“Thanks for dining with us.”

“Are you ready to place your order with


“Thank you for your business; we appreciate


“Have a wonderful day, all!”

“Make it a great day, y’all!"

“Glad you stopped in today.”

And, of course, if you know the person’s

name, just substitute that! “Thanks for

your order, Shelley.”

help you really wow your customers, check out

my “Tip Card”: (available as image in book)

After being misgendered so frequently by

well-meaning servers trained in certain traditional

“hospitality-speak” in restaurants (especially

in Texas!) who had no idea that they were

even misgendering me and negatively impacting

my dining experience, I was inspired to

create this simple, handy resource as a simple

way to raise awareness. I leave the Tip Card

with the merchant copy of my bill wherever I

go. I also leave this Tip Card with my doctor’s

offices, Walgreens, and any other customer facing

organization I interact with. You can

download your own copy and customize it for

yourself at

The world is truly changing in ways that are

freeing for all of us, even though the road to

change may be bumpy and calls for compassion,

tolerance and patience among all involved.

One of these positive changes happened in

2018, the first International Pronouns Day was

established - - with this

stated mission: (image in book)

Many online interactive exercises have started

to pop up to help people and organizations

become more pronoun-aware. They can be an

easy, fun, no-pressure way to get comfortable

with greater pronoun flexibility and diversity

and help employees, students, families and

allies get comfortable, too. helps people do just

that with an easy online exercise. Here’s an example

practicing with the singular form of

“they”: (image example in book)

“International Pronouns Day seeks to

make respecting, sharing, and educating

about personal pronouns commonplace.

Referring to people by the pronouns

they determine for themselves is basic

to human dignity. Being referred to by

the wrong pronouns particularly affects

transgender and gender nonconforming

people. Together, we can transform

society to celebrate people’s multiple,

intersecting identities.”

After selecting which pronouns you want to

practice with, you’re given a phrase with


After you fill in the blanks, you click the “Check

Answers” button and find out immediately if

you got the pronouns right.

Here’s another online interactive from Minus18

out of Australia (

app/) that includes pronunciations, explanations

and examples of how to use pronouns:

When you tap for an example - we tried the

Reflexive - you get a simple sample phrase:


Such small words, such big impact

People who care about their loved ones never

intentionally want to hurt them, but it can be

really hard for even very caring people to

suddenly see “their baby” “go away” or to

“suddenly” seem to be someone whose family

feels they no longer know. It can be challenging

on both ends of established and trusted

relationships when a soldier who was perceived

as a brother that always had their field

combat mates’ backs is “suddenly” going by a

female name and living their true gender expression

as a woman. Complicated feelings

can arise on all sides - anger, abandonment,

rejection, guilt, doubt, fear, loss, sadness,


Challenging our automatic assumptions with

thoughtful pronoun awareness takes some

getting used to, but a little caring and practice

go a long way! And in the end, it feels really

good to respect and support people to be

their authentic selves and support their desire

to express themselves as they truly are.

About the author

With two decades of training businesses on the power of social media marketing, Shelley now works with companies on creating inclusive practices, answering questions, and promoting understanding related to the gender spectrum while building welcoming environments for all. view profile

Published on September 03, 2020

7000 words

Genre: Business & Economics

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